NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.
March 27, 2008
NASA Studies Microbes on Space Shuttle Flight
Moffett Field, Calif. - NASA launched four microbial experiments aboard the space shuttle Endeavour on March 11, 2008. NASA Ames Research Center's Fundamental Biology Research group is managing this flight project. The purpose of sending the microbes into space is to determine how they respond to spaceflight and whether their virulence or resistance to drugs is altered.
The space-borne microbes are contained in special equipment developed by Bioserve Inc, of Boulder, Colo. The microorganisms are the focus of the work of four Ames-sponsored researchers: Cheryl Nickerson of the Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University in Tempe, Ariz.; Barry Pyle at Montana State University in Billings, Mont.; and two University of Texas Medical Branch researchers David Niesel and Michael McGinnis in Galveston,Texas.
"Three of the four experiments were flown previously on the space shuttle. This flight offers the scientists an opportunity to confirm and build upon their previous results," said Kenneth A. Souza, manager of Fundamental Biology Research Projects at Ames.
Nickerson's experiment focuses on Salmonella typhimurium, a leading cause of food-borne illness. Nickerson's previous study of Salmonella flew on the space shuttle Atlantis in 2006 and showed, for the first time, that spaceflight not only altered the bacterial gene expression, but also increased the ability of these organisms to cause disease in mice.
In this experiment, the team will confirm their previous findings and determine if the modulation of different mineral concentrations may be used to counteract or block the spaceflight-associated increase in the disease-causing potential that was seen in Salmonella during Nickerson's first experiment.
Niesel's experiment involves Streptococcus pneumonia, an "opportunistic bacterium" that's normally harmless, but can be a potent pathogen in infants, the elderly and people who have a weaker than normal immune system, including astronauts on long duration spaceflights.
McGinnis is experimenting with the common yeast, Saccharomyces cerevisiae. This flight study will help answer the question of whether microgravity affects antifungal drug resistance in the yeast under actual spaceflight conditions.
Pyle is studying Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a common water-borne bacterium that has been found in the space shuttle water system, thus posing a potential hazard to humans, especially during long-duration spaceflights.
Information gained from these experiments is intended to provide insight into the molecular basis of microbial virulence and determine if microbial resistance to an antimicrobial agent is altered by spaceflight. The results from these studies may also help scientists develop strategies for the prevention and treatment of disease caused by these microbes, both on the ground and during spaceflight.
“This mission enabled us to utilize the International Space Station and the space shuttle to increase our fundamental understanding of microbial adaptation to the space environment. With the information obtained, we hope to reduce the health risks to our crews during future exploration missions," said Carl Walz, director of the Applied Capabilities Division at NASA Headquarters' Exploration Systems Mission Directorate.
For more information about NASA programs, visit: http://www.nasa.gov
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